Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Don't Mess with Social Musicians: 'United Breaks Guitars'

Traditionally powerful companies can easily underestimate the potential consequences to their own businesses from the power shift enabled by today's Social Technologies.

One of the most vivid examples is the story of Dave Carroll, a pop-folk musician toiling without any particular reknown until a now-infamous incident while traveling on United Airlines on march 31, 2008.

While transferring flights in Chicago during a journey from Halifax, Canada to Omaha, Nebraska Carroll heard a woman behind him yell that baggage handlers were 'throwing guitars'. The band members watched horrified as they recognized their instruments being tossed about by the airline's bag handlers. Among the instruments was Carroll's $3,500 Taylor guitar. When he finally got his guitar back, its base was smashed.

What followed was a run-around from the arline that countless individual customers have experienced at the hands of large corporations. The difference was Social Media.

When Carroll finally despaired of getting a positive response from the airline, he decided to make three songs instead, and post them to YouTube.

That first video cost him $150 to make. It was posted on July 6, 2009 and the results were immediate.

Within 24 hours had over 50,000 views. After repeated refusals by United to pay for the guitar repairs, suddenly the airline called offering to pay the $1,200 in repairs and give Carroll more than $1000 in flight vouchers.

In less than a month, the video had received more than 4 million views on YouTube and more than 19,000 comments had been posted to the video.

The incident was a public relations disaster for United, and the song title "United Breaks Guitars" hung like an albatross around the company's PR neck for years to come. By the start of 2013, the video had been played more than 12 million times.

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